Sioux

“If I catch ya near that girl again, you’re fired. Help fetch the supplies from Clarkton,” shouted a cigar chewing, overweight man.

“Sure boss. I’m only checking,” replied Ben. “She tripped.” He passed a corncob to the kneeling girl.

“Amelia can tidy up. She’s too goddamn lazy. No one with O’Brian blood should be like her. I rue the day my brother died and we took her in.”

Ben winked at Amelia, catching a smile in return. Mr. Bill O’Brian, the Circle H ranch owner, still berated the prettiest girl in the district as he left. Ben had eyes for her and wished to sweep Amelia up onto his horse and ride into the sunset.

Deep in thought, he headed to the oldest of the stables. His ride had been relegated to this dilapidated tin shed. “Sioux,” he shouted, on entering and a rewarding whinny answered him. As he put on the saddle, he moaned about Mr O’Brian. Sioux snorted in agreement. Minutes later, Ben rode out, heading for a group of cowboys and a wagon. The dust rising ahead of him, already felt full of the constant jibes that he and his animal had endured for years.

“Well finally, he’s caught up. What happened? The Injun steed ran away again?”

“No. Ready and waiting. Keen as brown mustard. He don’t sneak off no more,” answered Ben, recalling the days when Sioux took every opportunity.

“That Injun sold you a wrong’un there. Don’t you ever groom him?”

Ben patted Sioux’s neck. “He don’t like a wash or the brush. Ain’t done him no harm. He stands outside when it rains instead.”

“He’ll not be lucky then. It’s into the dry season. Hardly enough in the gulch to get his hooves wet, Ben,” said another, on a black horse.

“Maybe there’ll be some soon, Enoch. The tribesmen are saying so,” replied Ben.

“Ask your horse. He’s half Injun.”

Ben didn’t answer and settled down to a position at the rear. His mind wandered to Amelia. He called her Mel. She protested, but he knew she liked it because she’d run her fingers through her red hair whilst she told him off. Holding the reins lightly and giving Sioux the lead, he didn’t once have to hold the horse back, as it navigated the stone covered track to Clarkton.

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“We ain’t waiting for that crossbred hoss. O’Brian will have our hides if we don’t get the wagon back dry. Those clouds brewing on the horizon could ruin the flour.” said Enoch.

“I know. I can’t believe Sioux has picked up a stone just now. Looks like the locals were right about the rain. You go on. Send someone out if I’m not back by morning,” replied Ben, looking up at the man on the black horse.

Enoch threw him a blanket. “We ain’t carrying bad luck hoss back.”

“It’s Injun rain. It can rot out here,” added the wagoner, “Giddy up.”

Ben watched them kick up dust into the distance. Sioux whinnied and looked at Ben.

“Stupid animal,” he said. “I hope you ain’t feigning so you get a free bath.”

Ben watched him snort before gazing at the clouds.

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After tipping the water out of his boots, he exited the rocky ledge, his bed for the night, to find clear blue sky. Sioux ambled over to him.

“Tough night. I see you ain’t limping anymore,” he said and packed his gear. Minutes later, Ben fell asleep in the saddle. He dreamt of Amelia calling him home but Sioux knew the way, he always did…

Sioux’s whinny woke him and he froze. In the distance, black smoke billowed from a lone stone chimney, “Amelia,” he shouted and dug in his spurs.

Flattened with a giant hand, timber panels fuelled the flames by the chimney. Two horses ate tough grass next to three male bodies. He dismounted to investigate.

“They’ll all dead, Sioux. Must’ve been a dead hit by a twister, Mel’s gone,” he mumbled. “Better get help. Come here…”

Sioux ignored him and ambled over to a toilet hut that O’Brian built when he realised the cowboys were eying up her young frame. Ben had stolen his first kiss there, and watched the horse whinny before kicking the side of the building. The door creaked open.

“Come here damn you. Enoch was right, I…” he stammered, and broke into a run.

“Help,” said a woman’s weak voice.

Amelia’s face peeped out from underneath wood beams and he began frantically lifting.

“I ran here and hid, Ben. The roof landed on Uncle Bill and the others before catching fire. Must be an Injun curse,” she said.

He looked at Sioux. “No, a miracle. Circle H is yours now, Mel.”

“Marry me, Ben…”

— john McGinn